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October 25, 2011

The next big thing…

By rbergs October 25, 2011

Image by MeoplesMagazine via Flickr

So, you have a new product idea that will revolutionize the world, now what?

I have been there many times myself, “Man, I wish there was something that does this…”.  Many believe that the next steps are prototyping, manufacturing, and ultimately a house in the Bahamas.  The problem is, just having an idea does not make it commercially successful, nor does it warrant the expense in time and money to bring the idea to the market.  I remember when I was 12 years old thinking how cool it would be if there was an interactive map in the car.  Fast forward many years, now you have GPS in cars, heck, even cell phones.  Really, the first step starts with pencil and paper.

Before you go too far, there are five simple questions to answer: If the answer to the last question is money, then stop here, as the money is at the end of a long painful road.  Answering these question will help to communicate the idea to others, as well as potential partners, investors, etc.

PROBLEM:  What caused you to have the idea?

My reasoning for the interactive map is that we used to drive from Michigan to Wisconsin once a year to visit my dad’s family.  He wouldn’t let anyone else drive; he wouldn’t tell anyone else the route, because we would get lost.  We came close to hitting a few ditches along the way, since he wouldn’t sleep, and we would make the trip at night after a long day of work.

PROMISE:  What is it that your solution will do? You do not have to have the technical schematics all figured out, but at a high level, how would this work, ‘A widget would cause X to do Y’ is fine, as long as you know what  Y, and it is going to take something that does X to do it.

I had no idea how to track the car, or how to take the data and figure out how to map it, but hey – satellites sounded cool! So, if a satellite could track the car, at least that part is sorted out.  And, well, if the car knew where we were going, and how to get there, it would cut down on the getting lost part, right?

CUSTOMER:  Who are people having the same problem?  Many people just assume that the customer will be a percentage of the population.  This is not correct, because out of those, you have the ones that just live with the problem, have their own way to deal with it, don’t care, and / or have never experienced the issue.  Essentially, think of your demographic, and rewrite the problem statement and promise in a way that would get you excited.  Don’t worry about the number of people at this point because if you can get them excited, they will come.

In my example, I figured there was probably a lot of families with someone who did not want to stop for directions, nor let someone else drive because they ‘knew the way’.  Notice, the problem and promise are written so that someone growing up in the US and went on family road trips can relate.

PROOF:  Why will your solution work / why should I believe you? This you can essentially make up, but use yourself, family and friends as a sounding board:  what would make you and others believe it works?  Maybe there is a test, testimonial, standard, etc. that can be used to give the idea credibility.

In my example, many movies show the military tracking the bad guy, so I figured a cool testimonial would be the FBI’s most wanted tracked down by the use of this device.  If the FBI trusts it, shouldn’t you?  Tests could be done where someone is given a challenge, drive from point A to point B without a map, only using this device, and vice-versa:  who gets there first, less frazzled, etc.  The classic example of this is the blind taste tests ran by Coke and Pepsi, 4 out of 5 prefer X.

WHY DO YOU LOVE THE IDEA:  Why do you want to see this in the market?  If money is the only reason, you might as well stop, because that will not happen for a while.  I was once told by some doctors that part of the residency program is to weed out those there for a paycheck versus those there for the patients.  Those for the paycheck will not stay around because of the long hours and little pay.  There will be long, thankless hours involved with taking a product from idea to commercialization.

In my example, I would have loved to have this so that my mother could drive for part of the trip, so that those not driving could rest, as well as know where the heck we were at 2 am.  Those trips were long because it was hard to sleep when the car would make sudden jerks when my dad woke back up.  However, this love was not strong enough for me to do all the leg work to fully develop the idea.  Trust me, I kick myself every day, but it goes to show the point, you really have to want to see your idea commercialized, otherwise, it will be the anecdote to a blog post.

I wish I could take credit for the above, but I cannot.  The above is a small portion of what is called a Jump Start (shameless plug: offered by TMAC) developed by Doug Hall at Eureka Ranch.  This is a one day idea generation, filtration, and communication workshop, followed by 30 days of follow-on coaching. The goal of a Jump Start is to determine significant hurdles that would keep an idea from being viable, or conversely prove the idea is worth pursuing, with facts, not just gut instincts.  This process works best for companies that want to bring something meaningfully unique to the market, which customers are willing to pay for.   I am not talking a tweak, or a me-too, but something totally new for your company and / or market.

So, when is the last time you introduced a new product to the market?    When you did it, did you look at the above questions?   Tell us about your new product / service experience.

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